2.9 How and when do you charge?

This question makes me think back to my early years when I first started in music production. I can hear by Dad distinctly saying to me “There’s no money in music, you need something to fall back on”.

Even though I dismissed the comment as a youngster, I understand what he was getting at. It’s not so much that there’s ‘no’ money in music, it’s that you have to learn how to charge for what you’re worth.

When to charge?

You earn the right to charge by practising the skills taught in this course, in the real world. It’s one thing to have the knowledge, it’s another thing to know how to use it in a studio environment. Practising techniques at home is a great way to iron out the kinks before walking into a session.

Let me just start by saying that I am a firm believer in charging for what you’re worth. I believe it’s respectful to yourself and the artist you are working with. Even so, it’s necessary to have realistic objectivity about the expertise and value of your skill set, which should be reflected in the charge-rate.

Stage 1: Experience
When first starting out, the main thing you need is experience. You need to understand what it feels like to mic up a drum kit with the one microphone you have. You need to get experience with how you record an acoustic guitar and a vocal at the same time. These are the times that we find our way almost by stumbling in the dark. We don’t really know what we are doing, but at this stage of our career it is all about stepping in to try.
These are also the times to be reaching out to those around you and asking if you can record your friends. Is there someone who wants to do a demo for their upcoming album? Why don’t you help them with that demo? As you are clearly in the early stages of learning your craft, the artist you’re working with will usually have more patience.

This is the period where you are gaining experience, but for little to no money.

Stage 2: Workflow
Once you have enough of a workflow to keep the momentum going in a recording session, you’re at the stage where charging is possible. You can either charge an hourly rate, or a day rate. Often you will find engineers do both.
A day rate can often be cheaper than paying for a full day of ‘hourly rates’.
Another thing that engineers will often do is find someone that has a similar skill set and base their rates off that person. This can be a great place to start. Find someone in your circle that you aspire to emulate and (if they are comfortable) ask them what rate they started at! Most of the time you will find people more open to disclose the rates they used to charge, rather than their current rates.

How to charge?

As we just discussed, asking engineers around you what they charged when starting out can give you a great framework.
Sometimes though, that’s not possible. Either those people aren’t willing to be forthcoming with that information, or you just don’t have anyone like that in your circle of friends.
If that’s the case, you can base a price from some other factors.

1. Recording is a hobby.
Let’s assume at his stage that you have a job and music production is a hobby. You can base a reasonable rate from your ‘per hour’ rate of your full time job. Let’s say for instance that you get paid $25 an hour for your full time job. Charging 50% of your full time wage can be totally reasonable. Now if you’re a doctor and your full time rate is $250 an hour, then 50% of that can start to get quite expensive for a hobby.
You need to be realistic when charging as a hobby. Use common sense.

2. Increased experience
The next big question is, when do you start to increase your rate? Many producers/engineers have a similar workflow here. A percentage increase per year can be reasonable as we take into account inflation and general living expenses. It’s understandable that every year, things tend to be more expensive. Music included!
On top of that, once you start to gain some consistent clients that love your work, slightly upping your rate is not just understandable but in some cases, applauded!
I’ve been in many situations where clients have said, “ I was wondering when you were going to increase your rate”. We all love clients like that!

There are no hard and fast rules here. I talk to professionals who are at the top of their game and they still struggle with charging. Often it comes down to the big question, ‘How much do you think you’re worth?’ Once you can answer that question from a non-financial aspect, it will make it a lot easier when it comes to choosing a rate.

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